Just a year ago binge eating disorder (BED) was not a recognized mental health diagnosis. Though first described in 1959, it wasn’t until May 2013 that it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health. BED has already become the leading eating disorder affecting Americans. To be diagnosed with BED a person consumes larger than normal portions of food in two hours three or more times each week. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), BED affects two percent of American men and 3.5 percent of women. Binge eaters can ingest as many as 20,000 calories during a single sitting. Given the fact that preferred binge foods tend to be high sugar, high fat foods, it’s easy to rack up enormous numbers of calories in short order… as well as serious weight problems. Eating such large quantities is harmful to physical health. Binge eaters face digestive problems, problems with acid reflux, vomiting and chronic diarrhea. Overeating that leads someone to becoming overweight also places extra stress on joints and heart. People affected by BED harm their emotional health as well. Most binge eaters feel guilty almost as soon as they stop eating, followed by self-loathing. The disorder has become a leading problem for both sexes, but for men it is now the most common form of disordered eating. And sadly, people who are dealing with binge eating are often dealing with another health issue at the same time. Dr. Russell Marx, the former chief science officer at NEDA, says that a good number of patients with BED have co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or substance abuse. In fact, sometimes sufferers have simply replaced one addiction with another. For example, one person with the disorder reported turning to food after quitting drinking. Clinicians say that it isn’t the food itself that people crave. Instead it’s the escape from feelings and thoughts that occurs while the person gorges on food. For the BED sufferer eating is a compulsion, making the disorder distinct from those who are merely obese due to overeating. Recovery from binge eating disorder is possible, but people with the condition should keep in mind that just as the problem did not develop quickly, change will also take time and professional treatment.
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